LETTER ON "HUMANISM"


Before we attempt to determine more precisely the relationship between "ontology" and "ethics" we must ask what "ontology" and "ethics" themselves are. It becomes necessary to ponder whether what can be designated by both terms still remains near and proper to what is assigned to thinking, which as such has to think above all the truth of being.

Of course if both "ontology" and "ethics," along with all thinking in terms of disciplines, become untenable, and if our thinking therewith becomes more disciplined, how then do matters stand with the question about the relation between these two philosophical disciplines?

Along with "logic" and "physics," "ethics" appeared for the first time in the school of Plato. These disciplines arose at a time when thinking was becoming "philosophy," philosophy ἐπιστήμη (science), and science itself a matter for schools and academic pursuits. In the course of a philosophy so understood, science waxed and thinking waned. Thinkers prior to this period knew neither a "logic" nor an "ethics" nor "physics." Yet their thinking was neither illogical nor immoral. But they did think φύσις in a depth and breadth that no subsequent "physics" was ever again able to attain. The tragedies of Sophocles - provided such a comparison is at all permissible - preserve the ἦθος in their sayings more primordially than Aristotle's lectures on "ethics." A saying of Heraclitus that consists of only three words says something so simply that from it the essence of ethos immediately comes to light.

[185 {GA9 354}] The saying of Heraclitus (Fragment 119) goes: ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων. This is usually translated, "A man's character is his daimon." This translation thinks in a modem way, not a Greek one. ἦθος means abode, dwelling place. The word names the open region in which the human being dwells. The open region of his abode allows what pertains to the essence of the human being, and what in thus arriving resides in nearness to him, to appear. The abode of the human being contains and preserves the advent of what belongs to the human being in his essence. According to Heraclitus's phrase this is δαίμων, the god. The fragment says: The human being dwells, insofar as he is a human being, in the nearness of god. A story that Aristotle reports (De partibus animalium, A, 5, 645 a17ff.) agrees with this fragment of Heraclitus. It runs:

Ἡράκλειτος λέγεται πρὸς τοὺς ξένους εἰπεῖν τοὺς βουλομένους ἐντυχεῖν αὐτῷ, οἳ ἐπειδὴ προσιόντες εἶδον αὐτὸν θερόμενον πρὸς τῷ ἰπνῷ ἔστησαν (ἐκέλευε γὰρ αὐτοὺς εἰσιέναι θαρροῦντας· εἶναι γὰρ καὶ ἐνταῦθα θεούς...

The story is told of something Heraclitus said to some strangers who wanted to come visit him. Having arrived, they saw him warming himself at a stove. Surprised, they

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